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Saudi blogger awarded Sakharov human rights prize

Raif Badawi, jailed for 10 years and facing 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, wins prestigious prize, with European Parliament calling for his release
The European Parliament said Badawi's sentence amounted to "brutal torture" (AFP)

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam, was awarded the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize on Thursday.

Parliament head Martin Schulz, announcing the award, denounced the sentence the pro-democracy blogger faces as "brutal torture" and called on Saudi Arabia's King Salman to free Badawi immediately and to ensure the respect of human rights.

"This man has had ... imposed on him one of the most cruel penalities which can only be described as brutal torture," Schulz said.

"I call on the Saudi king to immediately free him," he told a packed assembly, adding that the 28-nation European Union expected its partners to live up to its standards on the crucial question of human rights.

"Relations depend on human rights being respected by our partners... they are not only not being respected but are being trod underfoot," he said.

Speaking to the AFP news agency, Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar described the award as a "message of hope and courage".

"I thank the European Parliament. I am very happy about this award," said Haidar, who fled Saudi Arabia to Canada with their children after Badawi was jailed last year.

A Saudi Arabian court sentenced Badawi, 31, to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for insulting Islam but halted the whippings after a first round of 50 lashes sparked global outrage.

The Saudi authorities then halted the punishment but Haider said earlier this week that the flogging would resume soon. 

Citing an "informed source," she wrote on a website dedicated to her husband's plight that Saudi authorities had "given the green light" for Badawi to be flogged again.

Other nominees for the award on Thursday were the murdered Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and a Venezuelan opposition group.

The prize is given every year to honour individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.

Last year, the parliament awarded the prize to Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege for helping victims of gang rapes by soldiers.

Past winners include Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, late South African anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi.